How to get a job in journalism

Phil Simms

I don't know how many of you are familiar with the " …for Dummies" series; a selection of books offering self-help and advice on particular subjects from computer programming to beginners Spanish, but journalism seems to be overlooked.

Peers and student's alike always ask me how they can get into journalism - and seemingly this number has grown in the last two weeks or so. Therefore in this, the first of a three-part series, I thought I would purvey some words from my experiences and the experiences of others to help shed some light on possible approaches and perhaps dispel some myths circling about the mystic media realm - for what it's worth.

Getting a job in journalism:

When I was at university I always looked at every piece of coursework or essay as a chance to make some much-needed cash. That is a must if you A) want to be a good journalist; B) make some good contacts; C) get the chance to do some shifts. Indeed, whilst I was in my second year I was getting unpaid shifts at The Times and The Press Association. The more places I did shifts the more contacts I got and thus the opportunity for paid work came up (I was getting paid work by the end of year two).

But the best preparation is to start as soon as you get a whiff of journalistic nous. Before I started my university course I used to write match reports about my local Saturday-league football team, for which I played. Having done that for six months to a year I found myself getting more column-space and by the end of my admissions I was getting bigger column-inches than the fully professional side - that is Woking Football Club. This meant that I had a portfolio before I graced the steps of Northampton Square at City and also meant I had something to show off, when it came to offering my services. That is why writing stories or even a couple of pars in a blog for The-Latest can help you in your pursuit for a job in journalism.

I would take great care in writing letters to my local and, indeed, national press asking for work experience - at first the letter was very short, as I was starting from scratch. However, the more work experience I did the longer the letter became and the amounts of opportunities (and contacts!!) grew and grew. Yes, OK, the work was all unpaid and yes, you do hear a lot about students being taken advantage of, but by the end of it you will have a brimming portfolio - always handy to take with you at interview and your university work will benefit from it too.

My background is in sport so when I finished university I continued to undertake as many paid shifts on as many publications as possible. I also phoned up all the news agencies and (fairly regularly) did football matches and interviews to get my name around a bit - covering holiday shifts and illnesses etc. I was offered a job on the back of doing two Champions League games in December last year.

Touting your services for shift work (day & night) at agencies for news would be a good place to start because they carry the greatest weight of reporters. However, and I must stress, you NEED 100 WPM SHORTHAND to work for agencies like PA.

In short try and get some paid or unpaid work (write that you are offering your services 'on spec' which opens up the possibility of payment) - and write off to everybody, I would suggest your local press first and address it to a NAMED person, otherwise it will go straight in the bin. You won't be a very good journalist if you can't find out the name of the editor or whoever deals with it. News agencies would be another way to go - day/night/weekend/holiday/sick shifts. At the very least they may put you on a rota - and if you impress - they may take you on.
I cannot stress enough the importance of making good contacts, keeping a full portfolio and to start doing all this as soon as possible. Yes, it may hit the wallet to do unpaid shifts at first, but with a good degree you can start getting paid work as soon as you finish and remember, in the mean time all this is working experience rather than 'work experience'. The fact is you will learn the most about this profession when you are actively working in a newsroom and looks better on the CV and sounds better in interview when the time comes.